Max had a splash fight early yesterday evening with my friend Peggy's daughter, Gabi. Peggy has swims for kids with special needs throughout the summer, and we had finally made it to one. Her son, who has Down syndrome and autism, was happily floating around, along with five other kids.
I had been a little worried about coming. Our babysitter was supposed to watch Ben so I could be in the pool with Max, who doesn't swim, but she cancelled. Peg told me that Gabi, who used to be a lifeguard, would be there along with other adults to help keep an eye on him. And so off we went, Ben crabby because it was his bedtime and Max giddy (Sabrina was at camp). I kept reminding Max that he couldn't go in the deep end.
At the pool, Max patiently sat beside me as I gave Ben his bottle. After, I put Ben down in the car seat, slipped mosquito netting over him and he fell asleep. Then I helped Max walk down the steps into the pool and cautioned him once again not to go in the deep end. Of course, soon enough he spied a tube shaped like an ice-cream cone at the deep end and ambled toward it as my heart sank and I shouted "Max, you can't go in the deep end!" Peggy swam over to get it for him.
I started chatting with a couple of other moms, and when I looked back at the pool again, Gabi and Max were having a splash-off and cracking up. A little while later, I saw her pulling Max around the pool in a gigantic tube. Max could not have looked any more blissful. I felt the same.
Gabi knew she could splash around with Max just like any kid. (He started it!) She also knew that he couldn't clamber onto that tube on his own, and so she helped him and took him for a spin. She knew how to treat Max because of her little brother. It was no big deal.
Sabrina's the same. In general, she sometimes helps Max, sometimes has fun with him, sometimes gets annoyed by him. "Max, you're such a brat!" she likes to inform him. Like any siblings, really. Yes, there are times when she's jealous of the extra attention he gets. But mostly, they have a typical relationship.
This is all to say, siblings treat their brothers and sisters with special needs as they would any other child, while instinctively offering them the extra assistance they may need to get along in this world or just simply have a good time. Or, as the case may be, insisting that they do a task themselves. "Max, you don't need ME to get you that cup because YOU CAN DO IT YOURSELF!" Sabrina will point out to Max, who will growl back and then proceed to get said cup.
One of my greatest wishes in life, as I've often noted on this blog, is that more people had the same normal approach to our children. Treat them like other children and youth. Give them assistance as needed to level the playing field. Insist that they pull their weight. Splash them if they want to be splashed. Tug them around on a tube if that's what floats their boat. Bob with them in the water like they are any young people anywhere having fun in a pool on a warm summer night.